Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Troy Kotsur makes history as the first Deaf male actor to get Oscar nomination


From The New York Times. Pictured are Deaf actors Troy Kotsur and Marlee Matlin, who play deaf parents in “CODA.”

A couple of weeks ago in The Hollywood Reporter, Troy Kotsur compared the opportunities for deaf actors like himself to one small hair in a beard’s worth of roles for those who can hear.

With Sian Heder’s “CODA,” which stands for Child of Deaf Adults, he plucked it and made history. He’s the first deaf actor to be nominated for an Oscar. In 1987, Marlee Matlin became the first deaf performer to be nominated; she went on to win the Oscar, for “Children of a Lesser God.” Matlin happens to be Kotsur’s co-star in “CODA.”

Kotsur plays Frank Rossi, a deaf fisherman, gruff yet surprisingly tender, trying to keep his business in Gloucester, Mass., afloat with the help of his teenage daughter, Ruby (Emilia Jones), the only hearing member of their family. Ruby has served as the interpreter for Frank, her mother, Jackie (Matlin), and her brother, Leo (Daniel Durant) for most of her life. But she longs to go to music school and become a singer, a dream her parents can’t understand. (“If I were blind, would you paint?” Jackie asks.) And the thought of having to navigate life on their own is terrifying.

The critical response to Kotsur’s portrayal has been overwhelmingly warm. Owen Gleiberman of Variety called him “an extraordinary actor”; Steve Pond of The Wrap declared him “a treasure as Matlin’s gloriously profane husband”; and Peter Travers of “Good Morning America” said he was “hilarious and heartbreaking.”

The role has also earned Kotsur 31 nominations, including a BAFTAa Golden Globe, the first Screen Actors Guild nod for an individual deaf male actor and now an Oscar for best supporting actor. So far he has tallied nine wins, including a Gotham Award and a Spotlight Award from the Hollywood Critics Association.

In a statement on Tuesday after the Oscar nominations were announced, Kotsur said he was stunned, explaining, “I can still remember watching Marlee win her Oscar on television and telling friends I was going to get nominated one day and them being skeptical. I would like to thank everyone for this huge honor.”

Despite the scarcity of jobs for deaf actors, Kotsur is not exactly a stranger to the limelight. In 2003, he shared the role of Pap with a hearing actor in the Tony-nominated 2003 American Sign Language adaptation of “Big River” on Broadway. More recently he helped to develop a sign language for the Tusken Raiders in “The Mandalorian.”

Still, “I’m so glad that they recognized me,” Kotsur told The Hollywood Reporter of the accolades that have come his way, “not because I’m deaf but because I’m a talented actor.”